My Life as a Brunette

In Sacred & Profane by Donna Johnsonleave a COMMENT

In the midst of a despairing moment, I died my hair black. Whether this was an attempt to look younger or to try on an identity that was less worn from the consequences of my impulse-driven life, the result was a disaster. A complete and utter disaster. If I looked merely tired and worn with blond hair, then with black hair I could pass for the walking dead.

Upon seeing me walk out of the bathroom with my new hair, my dog, Mallory, began circling me, growling and barking as though I were a complete stranger. When I looked at my reflection in the mirror, I inadvertently cried out in alarm, as though I had let a murderer into the house. As if that were not enough, I had done a poor job of coloring, leaving the whole bottom of my hair blond, so that it looked like I was wearing a huge acorn helmet.

Walking over to Mallory, who now cringed against the wall in fear, I said, “It’s me, Mallory. It’s Mom,” though to be honest, I wasn’t sure if it was really me or the freakish person I looked to be in my new hair.

Finally, I scooped up a reluctant Mallory and we sat rocking next to the window, thinking about things as they were, as they are, and as they will be—or if there is any difference between these three states of being.

“Hair really shouldn’t be that important, should it, Mallory?” I asked. But it wasn’t just that my hair was a different color—it also couldn’t have been less compatible with my fair skin. Before, with blond hair, I looked wide-eyed and deceptively innocent; with dark hair I looked positively evil and ghoulish. So I began formulating solutions. 

I got on the KAT bus to visit my friend at Westview Towers. Maybe he would lend me money to get more hair dye so that I could just make my hair blond again. That would be the simplest solution. 

On his way down Kingston Pike, the bus driver stopped so he could get some doughnuts. Since I was starving, I got off and went into the store, too. Counting out my change, I showed my 75 cents to the cashier and asked, “Is there anything I can get with this?” 

She shook her head and said, “No, you cannot get anything with that.” Then she smiled at me, as though she were happy about the fact that I could not even afford to buy one doughnut.

“Well, thanks anyway,” I stammered, and made my way out of the store, head down. Life can be humbling.

As our journey resumed, I tried to think of some advantages to having black hair, i.e., looking like someone completely other than myself. One: No one I owed money to would be able to recognize me, so I could walk the streets unashamed and unfettered until I had the money to pay them back. Two: I could finally prove or disprove the question “Do blondes have more fun?” Thus far I was feeling like blondes definitely have more fun. As a brunette, I was seriously suffering from the need of an image overhaul.

Once at my friend David’s apartment building, I trudged up the stairs and knocked on his door. Opening the door, he shrieked when he saw me. 

“What have you done to yourself now?” he asked, all tact and compassion. “You look awful. Really awful.”

I walked over to his bed, above which an enormous poster of the Buddha hangs. Clearly my friend hadn’t gotten the message yet.

“It’s not really that bad, is it?” I asked.

“Oh, it is,” he said, patting me on the shoulder, his token gesture of Buddhist compassion. “It really is, and you’ve got to do something now.”

I looked out the window and lit a cigarette. “Put that out,” he said in alarm. “You know they have that smoking ban on here.” 

I lit the cigarette anyway and went into the bathroom to smoke it. 

“I was wondering if I could borrow $20 so that I could get some more hair color,” I called out to him. “I can pay you back in two days.” 

“I’m sorry,” he replied. “I’ve only got $20 left and I’ve got to buy gin, but you’re welcome to have all of that you want.”

“To drink or to pour on my hair?” I asked. 

We drank it for a time and watched the sun go down in all its glorious colors of red, orange, and lavender. “Look at that!” we exclaimed in unison, then looked at each other and smiled.

I went to the mirror on the wall next to the window and gasped with pleasure. “Look, David,” I said, and he looked at me. In the reflection of the mirror, my hair was aflame with color. Deep auburn, palest gold, a sliver of purple. But the most amazing thing was that my face changed in the light from young to old and back again. While the light was gold, I might have been a child of 10 riding my bicycle down the streets of my youth; in the deep purple light, I might have been an elderly sage, holding all the secrets of the universe; in another light, my face seemed to disappear.

“It’s a miracle,” David said.

“It is,” I agreed.

He went over and poured us more gin and tonics, which we drank out of pink plastic cups. “What shall we drink to?” he asked.

“To all the love there is in the universe,” I said. 

And this we did, clinking our glasses together in celebration for all that was, that is, and will be.

As if there is any difference.

Donna Johnson describes herself as a person who thrives on breaking the rules other people have made while also creating rules for herself that do make sense. “My rules do not necessarily follow the law set out by the government and law-abiding citizens,” she says. “They follow an inner law, one unto myself, and when I attempt to go outside this, to conform, disaster follows.” Her stories are often about people who are not recognized by others, who may even seem invisible, but “they often have a great truth to share if one but listens.”

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